Anime You Should Be Watching: Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight


Anime has been a particular form of entertainment that I have been watching and enjoying for over twenty years, but my exposure to them were kept at older series and OVA’s (Original Video Animation) that were licensed by American companies for U.S. public consumption. I’m talking about series like Voltron and Robotech plus even older ones like Starblazers, Captain Harlock and G-Force. It wasn’t until four-five years ago that I really got into anime that wasn’t made age-appropriate for U.S. public viewing.

I was literally hoarding as much anime series both new and old on dvd and adding them to my collection. It didn’t matter if the series or OVAs were mecha, horror, action, romance, comedy and-or slice-of-life, if someone recommended it to me then I would go out, find it, buy it and then watch it. With my past experiences on mecha, space opera and action anime I thought I would pick up where I left off and gravitate towards similar kinds of anime. To my surprise I actually didn’t like them as much as I thought I would. The sort of anime that I began to really enjoy and want more of were the slice-of-life dramas and comedies like Azumanga Daioh, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Lucky Star and Kanon. While they didn’t have the non-stop kinetic action of series like Code Geass and the umpteenth version of Gundam and Macross, they more than made up for it with some witty and hilarious writing.

My favorite anime falls in the slice-of-life genre. I am talking about Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight! from animation studio Ufotable. The series takes place in a future Tokyo where the birth-rate has slowed and there’s less and less children attending schools. Within this basic premise we have the character of Manami Amamiya who transfers into the all-girl Seioh Private High School where her vibrant and infectious personality quickly makes her one of the popular girls. She gains a small close-knit of friends from the shy and clumsy Mika Inamori, the athletic tomboy in Mutsuki Uehara, the smart, but emotionally withdrawn Mei Etoh and the eccentric Momoha Odori. Manami (or Manabi as she likes to be called) becomes the impetus for all the adventures these girls go through together as they forge a lasting friendship through good times and bad times.

One doesn’t have to be a girl to enjoy this series. Guys who like it do so because of how it reminds them of their own time in high school with their own buddies and how those bonds of friendships seems to last forever. While some have not the memories of those times will always be fond ones for both men and women who reminisce about them while watching this series. It also has some of the cutest animation with a catchy intro song. The girls’ school anthem is one that just has to be listened to.

And one of the funniest scenes from the series…


Happy Birthday to Felicia Day!

Today is the birthday for the queen of Geekdom. She has slayed with Buffy. She’s sang-along with Dr. Horrible. She’s even fought in a post-apocalyptic future. But she’s really earned the hearts of geeks (men and women) everywhere as Codex in the award-winning and popular web series, The Guild. I speak of one Ms. Felicia Day and from geeks and non-geeks everywhere I wish her a Happy Birthday!

Review: War of the Worlds (dir by Steven Spielberg)

Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds shows that he hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to creating blockbuster spectacle. While he has spent much of the 2000’s creating dramatic films (The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can and Munich) he hadn’t made a film which spoke epic in both spectacle and themes. He had made two unique films with sci-fi themes with A.I. and Minority Report, but still they lacked the size and oomph of Spielberg’s past blockbusters. It took him remaking for the current generation a classic sci-fi story to bring us back the Spielberg many grew up with. His take on H.G. Wells tale of aliens invading Earth was both grandiose in it’s set-up, but he was also able to deftly weave a very personal story within the larger scheme of the narrative.

Working from David Koepp and Josh Friedman’s adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel, Spielberg goes back to his roots as a maker of thrillers that first showed his talents as a director. War of the Worlds has its spectacular CG moments when the alien Tri-Pods first rise up and out of the ground to the look of awe and fear from people witnessing the event. Spielberg begins the film’s unrelentless tension from these scenes and never lets go. Once the Tri-Pods start unleashing their death-rays on the populace and whatever else is in their way the film starts moving at breakneck speed. It’s these same apocalyptic scenes of the alien’s extermination of humans that has prompted critics (both positive and negative) to bring up Spielberg’s use of 9/11 imagery. From the clouds of ash and floating pieces of clothes to the sight of people running in panic as destruction rains upon them from out of nowhere.

Some critics have labeled Spielberg’s film as exploiting the horror of 9/11 and its aftermath, yet when a film like 28 Days Later use the same imagery and themes these same critics applaud the director of this film as daring. Its an unfair criticism of Spielberg and just shows how some people just seem to use the events of 9/11 as a crutch. Yet, it is this same use of people vaporised into nothing but ash and clothng that adds to the tension and horror. It is easy to use blood and gore to bring up a feel of horror, but Spielberg one up’s this and forgo grand guignol scenes. His technique actually brings an inhuman and alien quality to the death and destruction on the screen. From the moment the aliens arrive Spielberg lets us know that this is a war that has not been seen on Earth.

Spielberg and his writers have stuck pretty close to what Wells’ wrote in the original novel, but have decided to look at the story through the eyes of a father and his son and daughter. This gives the film a more personal, disjointed and chaotic feel. There’s no scenes of the government powerbrokers debating and deciding how best to combat the aliens and their machines. No scenes of scientists trying to figure out how best to fight and get through the aliens’ defenses. In fact, War of the Worlds is the anti-Independence Day. What we get instead is a story of a man and his children trying to just survive the apocalypse occuring around them as best as they can. This choice by Spielberg and his writers to go this route is best shown in a scene where Tom Cruise’s character with his kids run into a convoy of military vehicles heading towards the frontline. We see Humvees, M1A2 Main Battle Tanks and other assorted military hardware and hundreds of soldiers. We can hear the sound of the battle just over the ridge of a hill, but just like Cruise’s character we do not actually see the battle happening. We hear snippets of commands and reports from the soldiers around Cruise. Spielberg could’ve easily panned the camera up over the ridge to see how the battle was progressing, but he stays his hand focuses instead on the dad and his family. It’s easier to go the route that Bay or Emmerich would take and show the sturm und drang, but that wasn’t the story Spielberg was trying to tell.

ILM’s work in creating the alien Tri-Pods and the subsequent terraforming the aliens begin were some very good work from an FX company with a history of impressive work. The Tri-Pods kept the original H.G. Wells description from the novels but gave them a modern take. While the George Pal version of the alien ships remain classic sci-fi icons these new Tri-Pods in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds definitely conveyed alien menace and destruction the moment they began to come out of the ground. It was a joy as a sci-fi fan to actually see that Spielberg and the writers decided to show just how menacing the alien invaders were in the way they began to terraform the planet to suit their needs. It definitely put a new definition to the term “the blood is life”.

The acting is what you expect from a Spielberg/Cruise collaboration. Cruise is actually very believable as a loser father who seem to look at his kids as more of a hindrance and a scheduled paternal duty than something he actually enjoys and looks forward to. Some of the best scenes Cruise has in the film are quiet ones between him and his daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) where he realizes that he really doesn’t know his daughter that well and can’t even remotely figure out how to calm her down and make her feel safe. When his daughter asks him to sing her a lullaby, the look of incomprehension at not knowing any showing on Cruise’s face is just brilliant. The one misfire in terms of characters in the film is Tim Robbins. The sequence in the film where they meet up with his paranoid and slowly going nuts character is actually very good in terms of ratcheting up the tension, but Robbins’ performance was more funny than anything else. Spielberg had created such a doom and gloom atmosphere that Robbins’ character’s appearance ruins it abit.

One other thing which kept me from calling this film an outright great film are the kids of Cruise’s character. While the performances by Dakota Fanning as the daughter and Justin Chatwin as the son were quite good the way they were written left them annoying and baffling. Either the daughter was a shrieking and emotional mess or the son was written as a rebellious teen who wanted to get into the fight despite knowing he was his sister’s lone protector to begin the film. It made Cruise’s character seem less of an unattentive father and boor, but more of a parent who tried his best with children who defied and talkbacked at every turn. If the writers just made the kids even remotely sympathetic it definitely would’ve rounded out their characters as real people.

Overall, I think Spielberg’s War of the Worlds succeeds in what it set out to do despite some flaws with some of the characters. It entertains and it also shows that when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking he is still the master and everyone else just pretenders to his throne. As for the ending that some think as being short, abrupt and just a tad deus ex machina in execution, well I suggest they read or reread the book again. The ending fit the film perfectly. If the film was an all-out blast to the senses then a different one may be a better fit, but for the type of story Spielberg decided to film the ending made sense in its execution.

A Quickie From Lisa Marie: Hurt Feelings/Tears of A Rapper (by Flight of the Conchords)

As I sit here frustrated by my attempts to write about how great a movie Winter’s Bone is and feeling depressed for the usual sordid, personal reasons, I realize that I’m still in a Flight of the Conchords type of mood. 

Here’s Bret and Jermaine performing my all-time favorite Conchords song, Hurt Feelings.

Sorry Sockmonkey, But This Is The Best Commercial Ever!

My fellow resident writer Lisa Marie posted that the Kia commercial which aired around the time of the Super Bowl was the brest freakin’ commercial ever but I shall disagree and nominate what has to be the best one ever. It’s a series of Old Spice commercials for their line of Body Wash products.

If you’ve already clicked the YouTube video attached above then you can see that it has action, comedy, sci-fi, nature, and Godzilla-style city destruction. All of them delivered by actor Terry Crews who can and will destroy Chuck Norris and that’s without help from his human-eyed tiger.

It was a tough call for me to pick this as the best commercial since a past Old Spice commercial with God (Bruce Campbell) shilling their product was my previous pick for best and greatest ever. But God didn’t have a tiger or city destruction in his Old Spice commercials.

Quickie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (dir. by Steve Pink)

I was a child of the 80’s. I can’t escape that particular information about my past, but unlike some of those of my generation I wholeheartedly embrace the 80’s both the good and the bad and the oh-so-awful. This is why after watching Hot Tub Time Machine (directed by Steve Pink…quite an 80’s name if there ever was one) I have a much deeper appreciation for the things I went through growing up as a teen during the mid-80’s. Rap was just starting to get real popular. Hairstyles, fashion and pop culture was dictated by the emerging juggernaut that was MTV (when they actually played music videos). This raunchy (and it is pretty raunchy) comedy starring John Cusack, Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke definitely spoke to my inner 80’s teen self.

The film’s premise could’ve been taken straight out of any 80’s direct-to-video knock-off of Back to the Future meets Porky’s. I mean the title itself pretty much explains the premise of the film. A literal hot tub acts as a time machine which whisks the four actors mentioned above to 1986 where they get to re-live a specific night they all spent together in 1986 (well, except Duke’s character who wasn’t born yet). Talk about space-time continuum and butterfly effect gets bandied about, but in the end the whole film was just trying to insert as much 80’s pop culture references as possible within 90 and plus minutes.

The film definitely got the 80’s vibe by liberally putting in boobs and naked chicks. 80’s icons Chevy Chase, Crispin Glover and William Zabka make appearances and John Hughes moments get replicated. I mean shot literally like it was Sixteen Candles all over again. The performances by everyone involved was great and it seemed like everyone were enjoying themselves. Craig Robinson as Nick had me laughing out loud every time he said something.

One thing good I can say about Hot Tub Time Machine that encompasses everything good about it is that it played like the anti-Judd Apatow comedy. While Apatow laughers I enjoy they’ve gotten to the point that everyone tries to make their comedies sound like his. Plus, any comedy that can have Sixteen Candles and Red Dawn references in the same 30-minute span has to be awesome….Oh yeah, it also used Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” power ballad over and over.

Song of the Day: Home Sweet Home (by Mötley Crüe)

For the latest song of the day I go back to my teenage years growing up in the 80’s when hair metal ruled the world. While my heart still resided with thrash metal and heavy metal I still got caught up in the power ballad which defined the mid-to-late 80’s. It was this power ballad in all it’s cheesiness which to this day is still quite catchy to listen to. I mean Mötley Crüe in one’s playlist at the time meant getting tail instead of chasing them away.

“Home Sweet Home” is one of the few Crüe songs that seem to have survived the test of time. Chappelle may think Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorns” was the power ballad of the 80’s, but he is wrong. This song is and shall always be. Plus, it has that awesome slow-mo sequence near the end where the band dances to the beat. Yeah, cheesy like I said earlier.

Another reason I picked this as the latest song of the day is what will be posted afterwards.

Home Sweet Home

You know I’m a dreamer
But my heart’s of gold
I had to run away high
So I wouldn’t come home low
Just when things went right
It doesn’t mean they were always wrong
Just take this song and you’ll never feel
Left all alone

Take me to your heart
Feel me in your bones
Just one more night
And I’m comin’ off this
Long & winding road

I’m on my way
Well I’m on my way
Home sweet home
Tonight tonight
I’m on my way
I’m on my way
Home sweet home You know that I seem
To make romantic dreams
Up in lights, fallin’ off
The silver screen

My heart’s like an open book
For the whole world to read
Sometimes nothing-keeps me together
At the seams

I’m on my way
Well I’m on my way
Home sweet home
Tonight tonight
I’m on my way
Just set me free
Home sweet home

A Quickie From Lisa Marie: Lollilove (dir. by Jenna Fischer)

In the role of Pam Beesley on the American version of The Office, Jenna Fischer has served as a role model for artistic, red-haired receptionists everywhere. (I write this, of course, as an artistic, red-haired receptionist.)  However, before she played Pam on a sitcom disguised as a documentary, she played herself in 2004’s Lollilove, a satire disguised as a documentary.

Lollilove tells the story of Jenna and James Gunn (played by Fischer and her then-husband, Slither director James Gunn), a young, idealistic Hollywood couple of decide that they want to do something good for humanity.  After giving it a lot of thought (at one point, we see that Jenna has written “Charity is hard!” in all caps in her diary), Jenna and James decide that their purpose in life is to pass out lollipops to the homeless.  Recruiting Hollywood friends like Judy Greer, Jason Segal, and Linda Cardellini (all playing themselves), they set out to make their dream of homeless people sucking on lollipops a reality.

Clocking in at a brisk 64 minutes, Lollilove is like the Office’s slightly more psychotic cousin.  In the best tradition of transgressive art, Lollilove is fully committed to its ludicrous story and, to its credit, it never wavers from pursuing its story to its ludicrous (if all too believable) ending.

A large reason why the movie works is because of the lead performances of Fischer and Gunn.  Lollilove probably features Fischer’s best work outside of the Office and Gunn proves himself to be as good an actor as a director.  Both of them bring a manic sincerity to their crazed alter egos.  Mention should also be made of the homeless of Los Angeles who play themselves in the film’s final scene.  Yes, when the “fictional” Gunns hand out their inspirational lollipops, they’re giving them to the real homeless. 

And, it must be said, some of the homeless do seem to appreciate the gesture.

(As an added bonus: Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo in which he plays a priest and it has to be seen to be believed.)

Bulletstorm E3 2010 Demo

Of all the shooters profiled at E3 2010 the one which stood out the most and looked to be most fun was Epic Games and People Can Fly Studio’s upcoming arcade-like shooter Bulletstorm. The game is developed by Polish game developer People Can Fly headed by Adrian Chmielarz. The game looks to follow in the footsteps of another arcade-like shooter which came out in 2009: Borderlands.

Bulletstorm takes a different approach from the more realistic shooters like Modern Warfare 2 and Bad Company 2. The game goes the way of over-the-top action similar to past classic shooters like Duke Nuke ‘Em and Serious Sam. They marry this with the XP mechanics of an rpg which helps levels up the abilities of the player and allow them to upgrade/buy better weapons and gear.

From the demo trailer shown above the game also looks to add some very Rated-R comedic dialogue in addition to the gory action. The game definitely looks fun and looks great. Like all Epic Games published titles it looks like Bulletstorm will be using Epic’s proprietary Unreal Engine 3.

The game has a tentative release date of February 22, 2011 for the platforms Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows PC.